Is Illustration Art?

Wonderful, this contribution follows almost seamlessly to the previous one! To anticipate it right away: I mean YES! Illustration can be art. But not because art comes from skill and the craftsmanship in illustration can hardly inspire us. Last week I discussed art and illustration in a nice circle. The occasion was the Illustrators Festival. This is a biennial event that started this year with a packed accompanying programme.

About the discussion and what else was to be seen at the festival

Even in the run-up to Illu 16 I had the honour (but also the agony) to choose from a multitude of submissions those who were then allowed to present their work in the rooms of the Michael Horbach Foundation. The organizers of the festival had already made their claim here. Illustration is more than commissioned work and can certainly be seen as its own artistically valuable genre.

Idea and experiment – these two criteria played a role in my selection. By the way, the original meaning of the Greek word idéa lies in the shape, the appearance, of what is seen. And that means so much more than naturalistically accurate representation. I have a lot of admiration for the perfect reproduction of things. But I’m only gripped when there’s more to it than that. When a flame ignites the enthusiasm. And I can get food for my thoughts.

A few of my favourites

I will pick out a few participants here who have convinced me. Daniel Balzer, for example. Or the AM working as a duo. I really liked Julia Ruhlandt. I liked the work of Maren Schneider. I found Sonja Lehnen-Friedrich great. I like playing with different picture levels! I am not so much convinced by a finished drawing as by playing around with drawing approaches. But illustration does not necessarily have to be drawing. There are a lot of exciting experiments among the participants – also with different techniques and materials. Just leaf through them.

Back to the initial question. Whether illustration is art. I sat together with Pauline Liesen, the director of the Troisdorf Picture Book Museum (Burg Wissem, I have to go there!) and the illustrator Daniel Schreiber in a panel discussion moderated by Klaus Althoff. Actually, we all agreed. We also agreed that we wouldn’t be engaged in the overflowing discussion about what art is.

Of course, our conversation also revolved around the topic of quality. And a not undeciding objection came from Pauline Liesen. She also sees a lack of self-confidence in the illustrator scene. And she appealed to the illustrators present to value their own work as art.

I found it exciting to think about the importance of the illustration genre, especially in Germany. In my preparation for the discussion, I had read that in France, for example, cartoonists and illustrators can look back on a different history. The importance of caricature in the French Revolution plays a central role here. Of course, illustration is not the same as caricature. But there are overlaps and so a scene grows up quite differently. In the USA there has been a Society of Illustrators since 1901. This also has an effect on the self-image of illustrators. In the Anglo-Saxon language, artists are spoken of as a matter of course.

Daniel Schreiber’s objection also made me think that “art” also meant a certain label. It’s also about status. Art is culturally valuable. That’s what you get in galleries and museums. Illustration is often seen as commercial. This is then not worthy of promotion, for example. (I don’t understand, for example, the cultural office of the city that didn’t support the festival). In times when the different artistic genres mix, I think it’s absolutely appropriate to take a closer look at the subject of illustration and appreciate the artistic impulse. Unfortunately, the lack of resources in the cultural scene (yes, resources are simply too scarce here) leads to competition and often it is a matter of defending one’s own place. The fact that both scenes mix (visual arts and illustration) occurs constantly, especially in the field of literary illustrations! In any case, the public has decided that illustration has more to offer.

A resounding visitor success speaks volumes

I found it very funny that our discussion was suddenly about social media. I quickly posted a photo from the podium. The moderator picked it up and played it to the others. I already know this from the visual arts and can imagine that illustrators have this strange shyness towards social networks. (Why that is, we can discuss that elsewhere.)

But especially when it comes to the question of self-image and possibly tapping into funding sources, that’s not a bad idea with social media! And at the end of our discussion I decided to get rid of a plea for an active presence on the net. Above all, you should dare to look beyond your own nose into other communities. For example, by participating in #PaintMuseum – that’s actually a steep template for illustrators. I’m curious, maybe some of them will show up at the IMT.